I recently had a very stressful experience. I pulled my van into a large enclosed loading dock to pick up some heavy boxes only to realize there would be a long wait. Rhonda was close by also waiting to pick up, so I walked over and asked if I could borrow her cell phone to call my mother and tell her I would be late. I dialed twice and got a singsong greeting that was not my mother's voice. Thinking I had dialed the wrong numbers on the tiny phone, I asked Rhonda to try. All she got was a busy signal. I knew my mother would be upset and I just had to get through to her, but to no avail. Trapped by vehicles in front and behind, I became more anxious and agitated with every passing minute. In the midst of that tension, I woke up. Strange. My mother died 37 years ago. How do I explain such a dream?
Calvin Theological Seminary
In a very different realm, how do I explain what has happened to me at Calvin Theological Seminary not a dream, though a nightmare in the truest sense of the term. There is one similarity. Nothing, since my mother was killed in an auto accident in 1969, has taken such a severe emotional toll as has the inexplicable treatment of me in the past three-plus years by the CTS administration.
This post is primarily for students and faculty at CTS. Many of you have wondered why I am no longer teaching at the school. I cleared out my office on August 24, and my term officially ended August 31, 2006. What has happened to me has not only hurt me but also the seminary. I have been an asset to CTS and should still be on the faculty. I hope that by telling my story no one else will ever have to endure such a painful ordeal as I have and that positive changes will come to the school.
For anyone reading this who may not be familiar with Calvin Theological Seminary and my role there, I offer a bit of background. CTS is a school of some 300 students located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is the only seminary of the Christian Reformed Church, a small denomination of Dutch origin, the denomination of which all faculty must be members. Since 2000 I have been the first and only full-time woman professor in its 130-year history. (My joining the faculty was significant enough to merit an article with my photo in the Grand Rapids Press.) The male administrators and professors, but for a very few, are all graduates of the school. The halls and classrooms are decorated with more than 40 large framed photos of past administrators and professors all men.
Not a "Token Woman"
I was not hired as a "token woman." I had a Ph.D., had been teaching for more than 20 years (primarily as a visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), was the author of many books and articles, and came highly recommended. (See my CV on side post.) Although I had stated in a letter that I believed I should be ranked as a full professor, I was appointed as an associate professor with a written commitment that if all went well I would be reappointed in 3 years as a full professor.
I realized from the beginning that I was walking a tightrope. How does a woman coming in from outside the denomination survive among a tightly-knit cadre of Dutch men in the faculty room at lunch time? Thatís a tough row to hoe. But it didnít take long before I felt part of the group. The guys were controversial, opinionated, brash and funny, and I quickly realized, Hey, I can do that, too. I jumped into the fun and debates, and no one had to behave properly and be nice because a woman was in the room.
In the year after I came, when the CTS Board was seeking candidates for a new president, I taped up posters with my photo that read, "Support Tucker for CTS President," with insider-joke promises as my platform. It was all in fun, and everyone had a good laugh. As a new professor, I did not have tenure, but one of my colleagues often kidded that I was "gender-tenured," that as the only woman in the school's history, I was as good as tenured. I quickly learned, after the new administration was in place, however, that such was far from the case.
From the beginning, the new administration was very concerned about the "faculty room ethos," concerned that faculty "went over the line" in conversation and jest during the noon-hour lunches. I was aware of such concerns, but did not take them personally. And no one had ever suggested I was responsible for the "faculty room ethos" until other charges against me fell apart. (One colleague said to me: "The 'faculty room ethos' was there long before you came and will be there long after you leave.") Indeed, I was shocked when blame was directed at me. I realized only later how significant gender was in my situation.
Because of subsequent demotions and threats against me by the new administration, I stopped going to the faculty room for lunch. I feared that anything I said could be taken out of context and held against me, aware that I was being held to a different standard. In a 2004 Reappointment Evaluation that kept me off tenure track for a second time, the Vice-President of Academic Affairs wrote: "I was hoping that [you] would say something like": "I have avoided 'going over the line' and have encouraged others to do the same."
Here was an administrator who eats regularly with the faculty telling the only woman that she is to be essentially the school marm among a bunch of rowdy boys. I responded that I did not wish to take on such a role, and for fear of further retaliation continued to stay away from the faculty room.
A Sketchy Time-line
I received a phone call from a CTS professor, informing me of a faculty opening and requesting my curriculum vitae.
I successfully sustained interviews with the Ministry Division, full faculty, CTS Board, Christian Reformed Church Synod.
I officially joined the faculty of CTS.
Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. was installed as the new president of CTS.
With no warning, I was given a Reappointment Evaluation that recommended I be
granted "a one year terminal appointment."
I appealed to the full CTS Board, asking that the evidence be opened. My appeal was denied with no review of my case.
I remained apart from the faculty, feeling depressed, excluded and isolated.
In a meeting with 2 administrators and my division chair I stated, among other things, my need for mediation. No action was taken.
I wrote to the academic dean, requesting mediation. The request was denied.
I met with a CRC denominational leader and later with him and CTS Board officers to appeal for mediation and a review my case.
A CTS Ad Hoc committee reviewed documents and interviewed the 3 CTS administrators and me. Their report called for "redress" for me.
Two mediators were retained to bring resolution to my case. They called for specific redress for me, including "retroactive pay to 2003." The CTS Board officers, at the urging of the administrators, disregarded the report.
I was allowed 15 minutes to speak to the faculty, at which time I stated that I could not continue to teach at the seminary.
My teaching career at CTS ended.
My November 9, 2005 Address to the Faculty
Below is the text of my address to the faculty, except for introductory remarks and some later paragraphs. The full text (with a date correction) is available for those who may wish to see it. The full names of the individuals mentioned are, in the order they appear: Henry DeMoor, (Vice-President for Academic Affairs), Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (President), and Duane Kelderman (Vice-President of Administration). The address is as follows:
During my first 2 years here, I was one of you. My love and loyalty for the seminary was evident in my demeanor as well as in documents, whether in emails on how we might boost enrollment or receipts for contributions. I was one of you in the faculty room whether in light-hearted sparring or in serious discussions or in jest and laughter. I was one of you then, but for nearly 3 years I have felt excluded and sidelined.
On October 19 last month, after 8 weeks of mediation involving the 3 Administrators and me, [the 2 mediators] issued a report. That report was emailed to all concerned parties. Among other things the report contained the following 7 statements, which I now quote and number in the order they appeared:
1. "We reached some conclusions which were similar to points made by the Ad Hoc Committee of Review."
2. "We think that if the seminary goes to court, it will probably lose, in part,
because Ruth is well documented."
3. "Much more evidence was needed, as well as documentation of
non-compliance . . . before her removal from tenure track."
4. "We recommend that Ruth be appointed full professor . . . at this time."
5. "We also recommend retroactive pay to January 2003."
6. "We support the suggestions made by the Ad Hoc Committee for addressing
Observed Deficiencies in the Re-Appointment Procedures."
7. "The allegations of 'ungodly' behavior will be deleted and acknowledged by
administration to be inflammatory."
Why would [the mediators] come to such conclusions? Why? Because they read through all documents submitted by both sides and they spent more than 20 hours talking with us, and they read the Ad Hoc Committee Report that called for redress for me.
Their Report as well as the Report from the CTS Ad Hoc Board Committee are documents you all should see. Indeed, my position from the beginning has been what I said to the full Board in February of 2003:
"I want my record laid out. I wish my colleagues and you, the board members, could look over all the documents and records that pertain to my case."
My story begins on January 2, 2003. I met with Henry for what I thought was a routine assessment. I had previously met on my own initiative with [the former dean]. His informal assessment was that things were going fine with me.
On the fateful meeting of January 2, however, I was told by Henry that my student evaluations were very bad. I protested, because I know Iím a good teacher. (See Student Evaluations on Side Post.)
Henry then moved on to my colleaguesí evaluations, and in this case his words were far more ominous. I thought you all had accepted me very well. The punch line of the assessment was that I would be granted (and I quote):
"a one year terminal appointment. . . . A terminal appointment means that your service at Calvin Theological Seminary will end when the 2003-2004 academic year is completed."
I was stunned. I was absolutely blindsided. Why was I being singled out for such severe punishment?
In the darkness of that late afternoon I made it back to my office and read his written Reappointment Evaluation. I couldnít believe that he had used no statistics in his review of my student evaluations, rather quotes and general overview only.
Only months after that assessment, I received, apparently by mistake, a cover-sheet on my course evaluations with professors ranked according to their scores. I was rated by students second highest of all the faculty who were evaluated.
Regarding Henry's review of faculty evaluations, when I learned from one of you that I had the right to see them, I asked for and received them from him.
Henry also gave me a revised version of his Reappointment Evaluation. This time, instead of only 2 positive quotes from colleagues, he now had 15 positive quotes; and on the negative ledger, he now acknowledged that the majority of negative comments had come from the 2 faculty and [or] administrators who had opposed my reappointment. Yet his conclusions were the same. [See Henry's Reappointment Evaluations.]
I have said the following to Henry:
"I do not know why your original letter presented such a negatively biased assessment of me, and unless you explain it to me sometime, I will go to my grave wondering. The one possible reason that I have never entertained for a moment is [your] incompetence."
It was after I challenged these Reappointment Evaluations that charges of ungodliness were added to my case.
In the course of conversations and correspondence since then, the Administration has spoken of deficiencies, deficits, lapses, lapses into ungodliness, ungodly conduct, and used many other terms that have no specificity, except for a reference to 2 incidents of ungodliness. For these deficiencies I was sent into a "renewal" program.
But the 2 incidents remained a mystery until this past July. The only clues I had prior to that related to individuals and dates, the first of which was dated Oct. 2001, a meeting with Neal and Duane.
I had checked back in my records and found no such meeting in that time frame. When I insisted this summer that these incidents must be explained, Neal identified the first incident as a meeting with him and Duane, not in Oct. 2001 but in March of 2002, relating to JFJ. In his statement of this past summer, he alleges that, following a greeting and simple question, I went into "a tirade" of "sheer incoherent rage" with "venom, some of it vulgar," including "you know where you can shove that", "explosive and out of control" "assaults" that continued for thirty-five minutes.
No such thing ever happened. Period. I have documents that strongly support my categorical denial of this accusation. [See Charges of Ungodliness on Side Post.] Moreover, way back in January of 2003, after this alleged tirade occurred, Neal sent me a letter referencing the "two incidents" and identifying 9 areas for which I would need renewal. Not one of these 9 relates to "uncontrolled anger" or "rage." And at no point in my renewal program did the matter of anger or rage come up, nor is it referenced in the "learning contract" I was required to submit at the end of the program.
If I had been accused of uncontrolled crying, and sobbing so hard I couldnít talk, yes, that happened on more than one occasion. For that I can be faulted.
But even if you all deem me the most deficient among you, and the most ungodly, you must consider the matter of process. The Administration has defended its process. Never have they said to me: "this was a flawed process; we are sorry; we'll make it up to you."
- When I was first told I was getting a terminal appointment, there had been no warningóno letters, memos, assessments. Is that good process?
- There was no consultation with my Division chair who strongly opposed the action. Was that good process?
- [The Ministry Divisionís unanimous vote to recommend my reappointment was ignored. Was that good process?]
- There was no consultation with you my colleagues. Was that good process?
- There was a tight time restriction for my appeal to the full Board, 20 minutes, with no opportunity for questions or interaction. Was that good process?
- During the 2004 reappointment process, when I sought to appeal to the Board, I received a memo from Henry stating that "if you appeal, you will harm yourself and your cause. We will inform the Executive of this opinion . . . prior to the Executive deciding whether or not to receive your presentation." I read the writing on the wall and backed down and did not make an appeal. Was that good process?
- False hearsay evidence was passed on to the Faculty Status Committee (resulting in a second term off tenure track) with no opportunity given me to respond. Was that good process?
This past August, I responded to a question Sid [CTS Board President] posed regarding what issues I wanted mediated. I wrote the following:
In 2003, I was removed from tenure track, a punishment of extreme severity not meted out at CTS since the purge of 1951.
1. Am I the most deficient (the word taken from Neal's repeated references to my deficiencies) professor at CTS now and in the past half century?
My position is that I am not.
The Administration's position (I presume) is that I am.
2. (Whatever the determination of question #1 is) Was the process fair and honest?
My position is that it was not.
The Administrationís position (I presume) is that it was.
3. What redress should be forthcoming?
The mediators report called for redress, including: "We recommend that Ruth be appointed full professor . . . at this time. We also recommend retroactive pay to January 2003." The mediators also formulated 2 Reconciliation Agreement drafts, both of which the Administration refused to sign. So, the 8 weeks of mediation ended with no signed Reconciliation Agreement. . . . Even though Duane had argued strongly that [the mediatorsí] report should be taken off the table, the mediators insisted it would stand as offered with no revisions.
That report was a crucial document that we all had been waiting for, a document that clearly states the mediators' findings and conclusions. . . . Had that Report been reversed and been strongly in favor of the Administration, do you think the Administration would have insisted that it be disregarded?
The Administration has stated that the issue of my becoming full professor is "on the table" and that "this represents a heartfelt spirit of openness," but Henry has continued to justify his removing me from tenure track because just 2 of you in the faculty and administration did not support my reappointment. By that standard, I must have no more than one vote against me in this upcoming evaluation process, a process that virtually assures failure.
I've told my story this afternoon in the hope that such a painful injustice as I have endured will never happen again, to a woman, or a man. If I am accused of being selective, that is true. To sum up in 15 minutes [my time restriction] some 3 years of meetings and documents is impossible without being selective. I would like you all to see the documents.
As for me, I will leave the seminary. I request that my name be removed from the current evaluation process. I will not teach after my terminal appointment runs out.
My Teaching Career
While I was meeting with the mediators we discussed my teaching career at CTS. I explained the terms rank and tenure and tenure track and how damaging the administrationís demotion of me was. One of the mediators responded with a sort of duuuhh: Well, obviously. Being removed from tenure track is a "career-stopper." Career-stopper. That says it all. But the punishment meted out to me goes far beyond rank and tenure. In some professions collegiality may not be a requisite for success. But it certainly is for someone who is part of a small teaching faculty. The singling out of me as the most deficient member of the faculty and the related sense of exclusion has made it impossible for me to continue teaching at CTS.
Matters of Confidentiality
The issue of confidentiality became the most contested matter in the months of committee review and mediation, and in the 2 previous years. The effort to maintain confidentiality, to "seal the environment," has been extremely critical for the Administration. I have held the opposite position. I have wanted all the evidence disclosed from the very beginning. I spoke to this matter in response to a letter Neal sent me on Motherís Day weekend of 2005. In that letter he stated 5 times in bold print: "This violation is a ground for termination." The violations related primarily to confidentiality issues. My response included the following paragraph:
"You seem to argue that material marked 'confidential' cannot be disclosed by the recipient. I disagree with that view. In fact, I believe the term 'confidential' should not be employed to silence an individual. I have alleged sex discrimination from the very beginning (as early as 1-5-03, three days after Henry informed me he was recommending a terminal appointment). . . . My situation is, among other things, a sex discrimination case. Utilizing a stamp of CONFIDENTIAL does not protect sex discrimination any more than it would protect sexual harassment or any other kind of abuse."
The matter of sex discrimination is a key issue. Some of my colleagues believe that a charge of sex discrimination against the administrators who support women in church office is absurd. They, likewise, imagine that the term is defined only by obvious statements followed by actions. If an administrator, for example, had said to me that a woman teaching at CTS was "an abomination of God" (as a student actually wrote on an evaluation) and then subsequently demoted me, then and only then would there be evidence of sex discrimination. But the law does not require such evidence for sex discrimination. If a woman who is as qualified as her male colleagues is singled out and demoted, that in itself is sex discrimination. I maintain that my credentials, placed alongside my colleagues (with name and gender masked), would rank high in the estimate of an independent observer.
An administratorís likely response to this argument (as has been used against me) is: "I didnít have confidence in her." But that is a standard phrase routinely used to defend a demotion or termination that does not stand on its own.
One of the significant aspects of my case is the apparent total lack of gender consciousness. Never have any of the 3 administrators asked me how things have been for me as the only full-time woman faculty member in the schoolís history. I recently raised a related issue in a seminary course on leadership that I was teaching, asking my students how CTS might look today if the school had been founded by women and if women, with the exception of one man, had been the administrators and faculty in the past 130 years. There was almost a confused silence suggesting that the question was not appropriate. But it is appropriate, and for a 3-man administration not to consider such matters is inexcusable. In most cases with the administrators, my colleagues and others, I suspect that they don't understand what gender stereotyping is. (See Gender Issues on Side Post.)
On January 5, 2003, three days after I received Henry DeMoor's Reappointment Evaluation stating that I would be given "a one-year terminal appointment," I wrote to him about gender issues, concluding with this paragraph:
"Many years ago, I read an article by a woman who was the first woman faculty member in a department of a secular university. The article related her story and was interspersed with the illustrations of other women in similar situations. What I remember most about the article was a statement that summed up their collective experiences. The statement was that women are
expected to play 'hard ball' with the men on the faculty, which the author was not necessarily objecting to. The only problem is that women are expected to play 'hard ball' with a 'puff ball.' This is how I sometimes feel at CTS. . . . The message I sometimes seem to get from the current administration (and on some of the faculty evaluations) is that, if I play ball at all, it better be with a 'puff ball.' There is not a level playing field for women on the CTS faculty."
This letter was copied to President Plantinga, but neither he nor Henry DeMoor have ever responded to the matter I raised.
The Fallout of Going Public with My Case
Some people may wonder if it is wrong to disclose the facts of this case to students and faculty and others who may see this site. I wanted my case to be settled internally from the very beginning. That was finally attempted with a board committee and mediators, but the administration chose to dismiss those reports and to ignore the calls for redress. And, if my case had been handled properly, as the CTS administration maintains, why can't it stand up to scrutiny? Furthermore, it's impossible for me to imagine how the administration thought they could prevent the news from getting out. Giving a terminal appointment to the first woman professor under any circumstances is a matter that draws public interest.
Besides, my case has already gone public, among students and faculty and board members and beyond. Indeed, there have been questions about my situation from the beginning. In the spring of 2003, a student, shocked after having seen a CTS Board report, came to my office asking what was going on. Shortly after that, 3 international women students stopped by my office very concerned about rumors they had heard that I was being forced to leave the school. Since then there has been of steady trickle of those who have asked me about my status. And, who knows how many have wondered but have not asked. Most recently a student of mine of some 20 years ago (who did his doctorate under Martin Marty at the University of Chicago and is now the dean of a Presbyterian seminary) inquired about my status when he visited my home. He said that he had noticed on the CTS website that I was still an associate professor and had suspected something was seriously wrong.
A matter of vengeance?
Some people might suggest that talking about my case is a matter of vengeance. But such a charge is unfair. As is often true of the military and police departments and religious institutions, CTS has a code of silence. But breaking that code and calling someone to account for wrong-doing should not be equated with vengeance. Indeed, the Christian Reformed Church holds that discipline is one of the marks of a true church. As difficult as it may be, a church must hold its members accountable and must stand against wrong-doing. This was true in biblical situations. Confidentiality is by no means a hard and fast rule. Paul took to task the Church at Corinth, on specific scandalous behaviors. Some folks at Corinth might have been upset by his making matters public, but he stood for what was right and his words have stood the test of time.
Code of Silence
This code is something I've encountered in unexpected places, especially among colleagues who have been supportive behind the scenes. But reading literature on the topic has helped me understand it better. Breaking the code has negative consequences, and anyone who knows academic institutions is aware that there are all kinds of perks that can be denied someone who is not loyal to the institution. But it goes far beyond the seminary. There are grants and many other benefits given to CRC pastors and churches. To publicly support someone who's challenging the system can easily backfire. The same goes for women students and women ministers who should be the most concerned about my case. For them to challenge the powers that be, whether in the seminary or the denomination, could be very damaging to their profession. They already have enough going against them in relation to gender without adding more.
I'm very disappointed that my colleagues didn't do more to have my case opened up. The standard response that I've gotten is, "we've done everything we could." I don't think so. But I do understand that there is a price to pay for going against the system. I think they would have paid that price if I'd been one of the so-called "good old boys," but I was new to CTS, an outsider, and a woman. In at least 2 other significant and controversial cases in recent years relating to male colleagues, the matters were opened up and the faculty was aware of (and involved in) the resolution (or attempted resolution) of the issues. Both cases, however, pre-dated the current administration.
Despite their failure to challenge the system, I leave CTS with good feelings for my colleagues, the vast majority of whom in their first evaluation of me (fall 2002) gave me "unqualified endorsement for reappointment." (See Colleagues' Evaluations on Side Post.)
A Note to Colleagues
I have no doubt that some of you will be very unhappy with my "going public" with this. But, as with many things in life, long-term gain sometimes requires short-term pain. I know that you do not think I'm the most deficient among you. In fact, one of you said on my last day, We're going to miss you. You've contributed so much to the school. It's been such a terribly sad situation. You're a curious bunch. You ought to insist on hearing the rationale for giving me a terminal appointment in 2003 and for not giving me "redress" when both Board Committee and mediators called for it.
The Wheaton College Case
When a school administration terminates a professor or removes him or her from tenure track, the process should be able to stand up to public scrutiny. Consider the Wheaton College case, a case that is publicly challenged by Wheaton professors themselves. I quote from Wheaton professor Alan Jacobs ("To be a Christian College," First Things, April 2006, 17):
"In 2004, the administration of Wheaton College chose not to renew the contract of Joshua Hochschild, an assistant professor of philosophy, for one reason and one reason only: He had expressed his intention to be received into the Roman Catholic church. . . . Hochschild, after some pleading by his department, was ultimately allowed to remain at Wheaton for another year, but in 2005 left to teach at Mount Saint Mary's University in Maryland."
Though Jacobs disagrees with the decision, he makes it clear that the process was anything but a willy-nilly knee-jerk reaction. Right or wrong, the decision was well thought out and clearly articulated. And there appears to be no effort to "seal the environment" and cry "confidential" to cover every move.
Jacobs goes on to say, "This event did not draw much attention beyond Wheaton as it was unfolding, but when a reporter from the Wall Street Journal heard about it some months later and wrote an article that appeared in January 2006, a considerable amount of public comment ensued."
Frankly, it surprises me that the matter drew so much attention. Evangelical schools routinely exclude Catholics from their faculties and some, including Calvin College and Seminary, exclude individuals from the vast majority of Protestant denominations as well.
Like the Wheaton administration, the CTS administration should have been prepared to openly defend its decision to give me a terminal appointment and remove me from tenure track.
The term cover-up is the only way to describe the administrationís response to my 3-year plea that this case be opened up. The repeated emphasis on confidentiality and the effort to "seal the environment" is not a normal response to a situation that should be carried out by an established process. I have known of instances of professors not receiving tenure (never of anyone being removed from tenure track). In none of those cases was the professor denied an open process. What happened to me broke every rule of fair and honest process and it is thus not surprising that a cover-up was immediately launched. And, cover-ups by their very nature exacerbate the original deceit.
Denial of Due Process
The denial of due process is a factor that runs through my entire case. For example, (as mentioned above) when I sought to appeal in 2004, I received an email threatening me if I did so. Likewise, The process for reappointments, as laid out in the Faculty Handbook, was not followed.
But worse than denying due process have been false claims of good process that did not occur. For example, in a memo to me, Neal wrote that he had consulted with a key individual regarding his decision to take me off tenure track, implying that this individual supported him. When I showed Neal's letter to that individual he strongly denied it, saying he had counseled just the opposite and, at my request, he wrote to Neal (and copied the letter to me), reminding him that he had recommended a "normal two-year term."
Contemplating My Options
My position from the beginning has been to open up the documents and to have my case fairly reviewed. When mediation was finally granted and a report issued, I was stunned to learn that the report, for all practical purposes, had been obliterated. I then inquired about Judicial Code, the CRC's internal judicial process, but was told that such a process was not feasible. One former member of the judicial code committee (an attorney) told me that no matter how water-tight my case was, it would be virtually impossible for me to even have the case heard, considering the connections the 3 administrators have with individuals on the committee.
I have thought long and hard about seeking justice through the state and federal courts, but I have no intention at this point to go that route, though I believe the evidence I possess is powerful and convincing. In fact, the mediators wrote in their report: "We think that if the seminary goes to court, it will probably lose, in part, because Ruth is well documented."
Some people have urged me to move on and leave the past behind. But that avenue would only encourage an administrative system that is highly secretive and arbitrary. CTS will never heal until this matter is properly addressed. This case has taken a terrible toll on the school. It has consumed literally thousands of "man" hours, to say nothing of the time it has taken away from me, and the loss of sleep. Colleagues have been very troubled by what has happened. The case must be resolved.
Emotional Pain and Loneliness
It would be impossible for me to describe the terrible anguish I have suffered over this ordeal, especially throughout 2003 when I felt so utterly alone. Yes, colleagues supported me, but in most cases that was behind-the-scenes support. I would go home in the evening feeling depressed and entirely alone. I am a strong and confident woman, but this very secretive and demeaning treatment of me caused me to doubt myself and provoked deep feelings of humiliation and shame.
"So, Youíre Miss Perfect!"
I've never gotten that remark, but some people have almost seemed to imply that in their confusion over my situation. I'm obviously not Miss Perfect. Of course I have deficiencies and I've readily admitted to such verbally and in print. My contention is that if you were to add up all the administration's accusations (including the ones that are false), I would be no more deficient than my colleagues (none of whom have been removed from tenure track). The burden of proof is on the administration. Some might want to spread the blame, for example, assigning 75% of the blame to them and 25% to me. No. That will not do. Unless it could be objectively shown that I am the most deficient among my colleagues and that the process was fair and honest, the entire blame for what has happened rests with the CTS administration.
God Talk is the title of a recent book I wrote. There has been no God talk so far in this post, no mention of how God fits into this situation. I have always been wary, as I say in the book, of using phrases like God told me or I prayed and have concluded to do thus and such. I believe that such phrases can be powerful tools for spiritual abuse, that of a spiritual leader telling an underling, I prayed about this decision, thus implying it was right. I wrote the following paragraph in my book in reference to my CTS experience.
"Claiming God as an ally in decision-making, particularly when other people are involved, can be manipulative and tantamount to spiritual abuse if the person claiming God's sanction is in a position of spiritual authority. I recently heard the bearer of bad news introduce his decision with "I've spent a lot of time in prayer about this," thus implying that a judgment that was otherwise unjust was somehow sanctioned by God." (87)
Indeed, there has been a great deal of God talk in my case, beginning with the first version of the Reappointment Evaluation of January 2, 2003, with the words: "After much prayer and inner searching, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot in good conscience recommend . . . that you be reappointed. . . . "
I do not believe that prayer should be utilized to defend decisions that do not meet the standard of a fair and honest process.
"Gain a reputation for Godliness"
This statement, "Gain a reputation for godliness," with no explanation, was one of 9 expectations Neal identified (1-28-03) in "addressing the deficits and lapses" in my life, "in ways and means that are measurable." How one measures a reputation for godliness is beyond my comprehension. But I responded to all of his expectations, including this one:
"Regarding godliness, I hesitate to even speak of it. It's almost as though if I were to claim it, the very act of doing so (at least in my mind) would prove the opposite. . . . I'm still feeling my way in understanding exactly how a CRC reputation for godliness is defined. Within my own congregation (La Grave) I certainly think I have a reputation for being a good upstanding Christian. I have been asked to preach (and have done so) in Sunday morning services as well as evening, and I have taught in the adult education program and been involved in other ways. I faithfully attend . . . and people often seek me out. I guess Iím just struggling to know what you're looking for under this category. . . . There is surely a lot more I could say about my personal spiritual discipline . . . but except where it comes up naturally in class or in conversation, I don't typically speak of it."
In God Talk, I quote Eugene Peterson on the matter of those who would claim god-like attributes and godliness for themselves, cautions that are appropriate for the seminary administrators (who are also CRC ministers):
"It happens in ministry. I flee the face of God for a world of religion, where I can manipulate people and acquire godlike attributes to myself. The moment I entertain the possibility of glory for myself, I want to blot out the face of the Lord and seek a place where I can develop my power. Anyone can be so tempted, but pastors have the temptation compounded because we
have a constituency with which to act godlike. Unlike other temptations, this one easily escapes detection, passing itself off as a virtue." (87)
The most immediate reaction of certain colleagues (when they first heard of the accusations against me in January 2003) was that of charging the administrators with violating the 9th Commandment, what I memorized as a child as "Thou shalt not bear false witness." My colleagues were thinking not only of this 6-word command but also of the explanation in the Heidelberg Catechism. (See Heidleberg Catechism on Side Post)
Why did this happen to me? What motivated the administrators to treat me so badly? When it comes to the matter of motivation, some people seem to put the burden of proof on me. That's something upon which I can only speculate, and what I am offering here is not speculation. I have the documents that clearly show what they have done, when they did it, who was involved, and in many cases how they carried it out. But I can't answer the why question. Only they can do that.
"Ruth is well documented." That was the conclusion of the mediators. I have a 3-ring binder with hundreds of pages of documents, all numbered and annotated. Indeed, my documentation is the most unusual aspect of this case. What I have written above is supported by documents. The administration also has documents that were submitted to be reviewed in the summer of 2005 by the CTS Board Ad Hoc Committee. (I had to go to the mat to get them to do that, a fact also supported by documents.)
Many of our documents are the same, but there were some surprises when I looked over their set. One item, for example, has a sub-title, "2003 Facts." One of the bullets under those "facts" is: "She didn't join the Seminary community for chapel." My first response is simply that the statement is untrue, untrue by a long shot. But beyond that, there is no documentary support. My question is: Was the administration taking faculty attendance for chapel? If so, what is the attendance record for other faculty members? Or, is attendance taken for women faculty only? And, if they were upset about the matter of chapel attendance, why did it take 2 years for them to let me know?
Lack of Closure
In leaving CTS "under a cloud" (a common expression that has been used in my case), there is no such thing as proper closure. I've been very limited in what I could say to students, and students have been reticent to speak to me. The student senate sent me a lovely card with a very generous gift certificate, and for that I will ever be grateful.
More recently a student invited husband John and me to his home for a wonderful dinner. As we were talking he brought up the matter of my leaving. He said how very saddened he and his fellow students were and that he was particularly grieved that new students coming to CTS would never be able to experience my teaching. He wrote a song for me that he had printed in a card, and he and his wife sang it to me, a very touching message of appreciation for me as a teacher. I was very moved by this little "ceremony" and I told him how healing his gesture was. As we were driving home, I said to John that his expression symbolically gave me some of the closure that I have so needed.
Hope for the Future
It is my hope that opening up the evidence will help the CTS Board see that it must deal with this matter before the school can effectively move on.
In a recent letter to a former colleague I wrote: "As you know, this has been a very painful ordeal for me but Iím doing fine. I am absolutely confident that the day will come when there will be redress and an apology for what has happened. It may not come during Neal's tenure, and it may not come during my lifetime. Maybe husband John will one day accept it for me, or maybe son Carlton or granddaughter Kayla. I have a real sense of peace and assurance it will come, and it's not just for me. A woman student commented that until that happens the seminary will never be able to move ahead on women's issues and other matters as well."
Life on Abrigador Trail
I truly am a peace with this situation, confident that justice will come. And in the meantime I am experiencing great happiness and contentment with John. The absolute best thing that has occurred in these past 3 years has been my marriage to John Worst, a long-time music professor at Calvin College, who has endured the pain of being twice widowed. But Ruth and Myra live on in wonderful memories, and the joy and laughter he brings to my life is beyond measure. (See Photos on Side Post.)
We moved to Comstock Park (about 15 minutes from the seminary) more than a year ago and have since been remodeling a house on the Grand River, a house that started out more than 75 years ago as a houseboat. Now, six add-on additions later, we're enjoying nature, including otters, mink, and a blue heron that catches fish while standing on our dock. We live very close to the White Pine Trail, and sometimes bike up beyond Cedar Springs, a 40-mile-round trip. And, we're also enjoying lots of company, including our kids and 4 grandkids. Several classes of students spent the last session in our big open family space, and we hope more of you will stop by. We have the welcome mat out. Give us a call to make sure we're home.
Limitations of this Site
I truly do hope that some of you, my colleagues and students, will stop by to visit and enjoy the natural beauty. But I would also be honored if representative students and faculty stopped by to actually look at the documents. There is no way that I can include everything you might want to know on this site. Give me a call; come with your questions, and I'll respond by showing you the material. This is an important point. The administration has accused me in the past (and may very well accuse me now) of being dishonest and misrepresenting the facts. I am eager for you to judge for yourselves which side has been honest about this case.
A Final Word
It's important to understand that my case points to a much larger issue than the demeaning treatment of me or the unfair treatment of women generally. There are systemic matters that go to the heart of this case.
CTS has become an administration-run school. It's entirely possible that when Neal took on the presidency more than 3 years ago that he had no conscious plan to change the school in less than 2 years from being a faculty-run to an administrator-run institution. But with the new 3-man administration, that very thing quickly transpired, though not without opposition. (What happened to me would not have occurred if CTS had remained a faculty-run school.)
Now, there are some who may argue that an administrator-run institution is more efficient. That certainly has not been true in my case though it can be true in some circumstances. But the cost of this efficiency can be very heavy. The ownership of the institution is taken over by a few and the free flow of ideas and the lively give-and-take is easily hijacked (as was true in my case).
To my knowledge there are no CTS Board minutes that indicate that this significant change in governance was ever debated. Rather, I believe it occurred without discussion or even awareness. Once the change has occurred it's almost impossible to undo, unless a Board is independent and strong. I hope it is not too late for CTS.
I would challenge faculties at other schools as well as the Boards of Trustees to be conscious of such changes, sometimes evolving by default. Allowing a small group of administrators to wield great power is not something that should occur without considerable forethought and planning.
A colleague from another institution asked me last night about the "faculty room ethos"---wondering if off-color language, etc. was used. I regret very much if anyone got that impression. I certainly didn't mean to suggest that. I write: "The guys were controversial, opinionated, brash and funny." Whether or not they (and I) went "over the line" is based on where one draws the line. I've been in a number of other faculty lunch rooms. I would not single out CTS as being more "over the line" than what I've seen elsewhere. I have witnessed a lot more negativity than at CTS. In this category, I'd give the guys high marks.
Marriage: How is it holding up?
I was just asked that. I probably wouldn't be putting this in print if it were falling apart! John is fantastic. Indeed, I never could have imagined marriage could be so incredibly good. I kid people that he had 2 previous (and wonderful) wives who whipped him into shape before I got him.
So, is this case taking a toll on the marriage? Apart from the usual spats (See post on Nagging on River-Rat Reflections), we have had only one fight over this. Well, not really a fight, but an ongoing difference of opinion and reaction.
He wants to tell 'them' off. I won't let him. Now, he's got a mind of his own. So, if he tells someone off, it will be without my knowledge or consent.
On one occasion this almost happened as we were heading to the parking lot (after a funeral, no less!) He started out in another direction, muttering under his breath, I'm going to talk to _______. I said, in horror, "Donít you dare!" I thought I was going to have to wrestle him to the ground in the parking lot of the church, but fortunately he came to his senses.
This case is documented. It's not a he said/she said case. Nothing will be gained, dear husband John, if you tell 'them' off.
In addition to comments and responses above, and reader comments linked below, there have been many more responses to this web log. I've added a Side Post here containing a selection of recent responses sent directly to me. Additionally, anyone interested in my brief commentary about the reactions and comments I've gotten can also visit my "River Rat Reflections" blog.